There were quite a few wineries at last week's Fancy Food Show in New York, including Argentina's Casarena, represented by its president, Marcelo Waldheim. But there were even more vendors promoting gourmet products to eat with wine. We decided to find out if they really added any value.
We've always been a bit skeptical of foods intended specifically for wines, even for specific wines. There is already so much variety in both food and wine that it hardly seems necessary to create new food products just to go with wine. Surely, some food somewhere is already a perfect match for every decent wine on the market! Yet food-for-wine products can act as shortcuts to finding these pairings, especially when their makers suggest wines that truly are good matches.
Of course, saying "this chocolate goes with syrah" creates the possibility that the chocolate might go very well with some syrahs and not so well with others. That's about par for the course when it comes to wine pairings, though. Even our Argovino website just suggests food pairings by grape varietal, with a bit more detail occasionally in our reviews.
But let's get to the products. Some of the most unusual we tasted were the Wine Sticks from The Sweetery in three varieties: curry gold, apple riesling, and chocolate with pork rinds (you read that right). All the sticks had a pretty laid-back flavor - the pork rinds were hardly discernible - that certainly wouldn't overwhelm and might indeed complement some wines. But they weren't too enjoyable on their own, so to us they could never be part of the best kind of pairing: a wonderful wine and a delicious food that are great on their own yet even better together. In fact, we preferred the Flats crackers by Pure, which weren't made just for wine; they're tasty on their own and even better with wine and cheese as well.
We also tried some small biscuits from Cookies and Corks, which come with their own pairing guide. It was hard to believe, though, that the same espresso chocolate peanut butter cookie could go just as well with Sauvignon Blanc as with Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Chocolates from Brix were also decent on their own, and notably more restrained than some of the amazing crus we recommended last week. Their smoothness might help them to pair well with wine, too.
Overall, the food-for-wine products seemed reasonably successful. But there was just one big challenge facing them at the show: all the other products. With hundreds of sumptuous cheeses, cured meats, crackers, chocolates, and cakes available for tasting, there were plenty of more inspiring options for pairings. The final verdict? Food made for wine can be a good shortcut right out of the package, but there's nothing like a fresh artisanal product - especially if it's from the same terroir as your wine. Salud!